The Reasons There Was So Much Opposition to Women Getting the Vote 

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Women in the United Kingdom were not given voting rights until 1928, however this was only achieved after centuries of division between the male and female gender roles. Women had been subject of a variety of opposition and backlash over their right to vote on the same terms as men which was primarily driven by an ideology focusing on the role of a woman which within itself had various perspectives. The main reasons as to why women received so much opposition to getting the vote was down to influential political movements, social perceptions of a woman and culture.

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Women who campaigned for social change faced heavy criticism because they criticised the ‘separate spheres’ philosophy which dominated the period. According to Victorian and Edwardian sentiment, God made men and women biologically different so it made sense that they performed distinct roles. Women were the only sex able to become pregnant, have babies and breast feed so it was thought appropriate for them to remain within the ‘private sphere’ of the home. Women were also believed to be better qualified for for the domestic jobs of cooking, cleaning and child-rearing because home was their natural domain. In contrast, men’s historic hunting role made them innately suited for the ‘public sphere’ for women. The case against votes for women were driven by a group often referred to as the Antis whose ideas were representative to popular opinion than those of the female suffragists. The Antis were not all comprised of men but also many eminent women such as Mary Kingsley and Gertrude Bell who were distinguished Victorian and Edwardian explorers who spoke out against votes for women. The Antis argument were varied but were generally based on the perceived physical, emotional and intellectual differences between. men and women.

As Brian Harrison suggests, those opposed to votes for women were often people with an inbuilt dislike of change with no desire to alter the political status quo. Their beliefs were firm with the belief of change having delirious effects as it would destabilise the existing political structure. Some Antis also opposed the idea of an increase in democracy due to fear of ‘uneducated, politically inexperienced and irrational class’ would gain influence on politics and its risk deemed too significant. Although, some opponents of women suffrage believed the political elite of themselves ought to rule however amongst many Antis it was evident that women should not vote purely because they were women however the Antis gradually built an intellectual basis for their views. One of the main argument the Antis stressed was the relationship between the right to vote and the responsibility to fight for one’s country, there was a belief that women were not capable of full citizenship as they were not available for the purposes of defence. One female leading anti-suffragist argued that women should not have the vote as political power rested in the end on physical force to which women owing to physical, moral and social reasons were not capable of contributing. This particular argument against votes for women was constant between 1860 to 1914.

Much of the basis of the Antis’ argument was down to Britain’s role as an imperial power and the requirement of a strong army. There was a belief of no imperialists pretensions offered female suffrage as women were not able to fight and defend for their country and therefore could not fulfil a vital obligation of citizenship so should be denied the right to vote. Furthermore, there was fear that countries such as India which was under British colonial control would not give Britain as much authority as they may demand their own enfranchisement leading to demands of independence if women suffrage was processed as this would mean an incline towards pacifism, as women would be reluctant to wage wars against foreign enemies. This led to a reluctance in public opinion as Britain may have had to face the prospect of decline and invasion due to a woman’s nature to favour peace rather than fighting. There was much concern and panic due to the growth of German economic and military strengths and this concern was magnified at the prospect of a war with the defence of an increasingly feminised Britain. Another argument was based on the threat to British civilization as it was thought that women would be unable to govern due to the harsh laws that were in place and a threat of anarchy and a brutal civil war that would be a result of it.

Psychological differences were another argument which amplified the opposition the woman vote faced. Victorian scientific theories laid embedded in British society with the belief of women being intellectually inferior simply because their brain weighed less and were also prone to insanity due to the complications of menstruation, pregnancy and menopause. In 1871, an MP suggested that due to this it would be foolish to grant votes to women. The Antis also followed religious belief of God’s wish for men to rule and women be governed. Mrs Humphry Ward, the first President of the Anti-Suffrage League maintained in 1889 that certain government departments should be exclusively preserved for men. In contrast, a women’s role was in the private sphere of the home. Mrs Parker Smith, President of a Scottish Women’s Liberal Unionist Association strongly believed women should not play a role in public life due to their responsibilities of mothers and wives, she felt family life would be destroyed if women got the vote as it would lead to challenge of the authority of men, therefore implicating a big problem in society. The Antis were also under the impression that politics was too much a dirty game for women as polling booths were often raucous and disorderly. Political movements were the prime cause which allowed momentum against the idea of women getting the vote to prosper. Most notably, the anti-suffragist movement took vigorous strides and was essentially an umbrella above the rest of the movements.

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